BY OKONKWO EZE
Since the unfortunate incident of deportation of some Igbos from Lagos to Onitsha, old wounds were re-opned over similar incidents that happened in the past.
The same residents of the commercial city of Onitsha woke up early on Wednesday, July 24, this year, and discovered to their chagrin that 67 persons, majority of whom were of Igbo extraction were deported all the way from Lagos and dumped at almost the same spot at the popular Upper Iweka area of the commercial city.
On enquiry, the deportees told the residents that they were arrested by the officials of Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) from various parts of Lagos, detained in different prison custody for a period ranging from six months to two years and finally deported to Onitsha where they were dumped at about 3.20 a.m.
As early as 6 a.m., officials of the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS), led by its South East zonal chairman, Dr. Peter Emeka Katcy arrived the scene and interviewed the deportees one after the other.
According to the deportees, the KAI officials were instructed to flush out hawkers and beggars out of the state and as such, the KAI officials embarked on indiscriminate arrests and detention of non indigenes of the state, without asking questions.
According to one of the deportees who gave her name as Rosemary Nathaniel, a native of Ubakala in Umuahia, Abia State, “I was neither a beggar nor a hawker for the past five years I lived in Lagos. I was working at a T-shirt weaving center at Mile 2, Lagos and I lived with my sister but in January, this year, the KAI officials arrested me and my friend while we were standing and discussing”.
On how she was arrested, Rosemary stated that she was just standing somewhere discussing with one of her friends and all of a sudden, the KAI officials, accompanied by some policemen double-crossed and dragged them into their waiting vehicle and then off-loaded them at a prison in Alausa area of Lagos
She noted that it was when they were forced into the vehicle that they saw others who were already inside the vehicle, adding that as they moved about, more persons were arrested and dragged into the vehicle until the vehicle was filled to the brim.
She said that up till now, her sister had never known her whereabout since then because the KAI officials did not even ask them where they lived or where they worked or who are their relations, adding that if she is able to get a transport fare, she would like to go back to her sister in Lagos.
Another deportee who identified himself as Osondu Mbuto from Ohaozara in Ebonyi State and who claimed to be a petty trader in Lagos, said he was arrested by the same KAI officials who were in the company of some policemen, while going to his shop on December 18, last year.
Mbuto who noted that he was picked up forcefully by government officials with armed policemen while trying to go to his shop one morning. added that he had been in the Ikorodu unofficial detention camp without having contact with his family and friends for over eight months before they were bundled to Onitsha that day.
According to Mbuto, “I am a Lagos-based petty trader but on that December 18 fateful day, I packed my load somewhere and decided to go and buy something and exercise myself and as I was walking on the road, I saw three persons who came and approached me. Initially, I thought they were all these people who snatch peoples’ bags and I thought I could scare them away by giving them a little change from my pocket.
“All of a sudden, “he continued, “I saw an armed policeman in uniform who pointed his gun at me as he ordered me to follow the KAI officials and out of fear, I joined them as they marched me into a waiting vehicle and drove away.
“My initial suspicion was that they were taking us to Alausa police station, where they used to detain people unlawfully only to release them later with a specific amount of fee for bail. But this time around, they took me to another place called Ikorodu which is different from Ikeja local government. That place is very close to Ijebu Ode”.
He said after taking his statement, they put him into their cell, adding that it was two days before their deportation to Onitsha that one of their elders came and asked that those who would want to go home should write down their name, which he did.
He said those of them who wrote their names and indicated their interest to go home were later separated from others and were later pushed into a vehicle down to Onitsha where they were dumped at the Upper Iweka Flyover at about 3.20 a.m.
As at 12 noon, that same Wednesday, the news of their arrival to Onitsha had spread like a wild fire, to the extent that the relations of some of the deportees surged to Onitsha, identified and took up to 41 of them home, while the Red Cross team later took the remaining 18 of them to Onitsha South Local government township Stadium where they were given blood tonic, lucozade boost, biscuits, food and bottled water and counseled.
At the stadium, more relations of some of the deportees arrived on daily basis, identified their own relations and took them home, including one Mrs. Okoli from Uzoakwa, Ihiala, Anambra State, just as some of them who were able to identify their own homes and were healthy enough to go home by themselves, were given transport fare through combined efforts of the NRCS and chairman of the Onitsha South Local Government Transition Committee, Barrister Ugochukwu Ezeani.
As at Monday, this week, only five of them were left at the one-room office apartment where they were kept at the stadium.
Mrs. Nneoma Judith Nwora, a member of the NRCS and education officer attached to the Onitsha South Local Government Education Authority (LGEA), told newsmen that one of the deportees had died on Friday as a result of protracted illness, adding that the five remaining deportees comprised two males and three females.
Nwora who gave the names of the remaining five deportees as Friday Ndukwe from Ohafia in Abia State, Grace Igbochi who claimed to be a Lagosian, Ugulari Tutua from Warri in Delta, Chinyere Nicholas from Awo Omamma, near Owerri, Imo State and Rosemary Nathaniel from Ubakala Umuahia in Abia State, said some of them admitted being beggars in Lagos, while others denied being beggars.
She said that three of the deportees were unconscious at the moment, adding that some Rev. Sisters from the nearby Madonna Mercy Convent have indicated interest to come and pick them for feeding and medical treatment until they recover and go home.
It was at this point that reactions flowed from many quarters, following the remembrance of the first deportation.
Reacting to the development, the South East Zonal Red Cross boss, Katchy, described the action of the Lagos state government as condemnable, adding, “it is very despicable and very disheartening that a state in Federal Republic of Nigeria will bundle people who are in that state, who are not even indigenes of Anambra State, bring them back to Anambra State, dump them under the fly-over bridge at Upper Iweka in Onitsha and leave”.
According to Katchy, “most of the people, we have interviewed are not even indigenes of Anambra State. Some of them are from Ebonyi, some are from Imo State and other states but it is very pathetic that a state government will give an order for people to be brought to another state within the Federal Republic of Nigeria and dumped.
“It is an insult to Anambra State. We shall draw the attention of His Excellency, the Governor of Anambra State, Mr.Peter Obi to ask why such invasion in his territory and we will find out why Lagos State should invade Anambra State territory; and why Lagos State should come and dump people here helplessly”, he lamented.
Prominent personalities across the country have continued to air their views about the deportation of these persons from Lagos to the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra state, for the second time penultimate Wednesday, July 24, this year.
Among those who have so far spoken on the matter included a prominent Igbo leader and Ogirishi Igbo, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka; Chairman, Board of Trustees, Nigerian Importers Association, Chief Gilbert Bravo Obi; Barrister Obiora Muojeke, legal practitioner in Onitsha and eldest son of a first republic parliamentarian, Hon. R. N. Muojeke and Barrister Chris Ajugwe, another legal practitioner in Onitsha.
Aside these personalities, there were other groups like the Nigerian Bar Association NBA, Onitsha branch; the Campaign for Democracy (CD); the Onitsha South Local Government Authority; the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS); the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB); the International Society for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (INTERSOCIETY); the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), among others.
Although Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola admitted that only 14 destitutes were affected in the action which he described as mere rehabilitation, a cursory look at the scenario showed that the development has continued to attract condemnation from far and wide.
The incident is attracting this much comments because it is the second time Lagos state government evacuated people to Onitsha, under the same circumstance. The first one was on September 18, 2012 when they evacuated over 100 persons in nine loaded buses and dumped them in Onitsha.
The September 18 deportation caused pandamonium quite alright but it did not go to the extent of Governor Peter Obi reporting his Lagos colleague to President Goodluck Jonathan, as he did this time around.
Sources said that Lagos government has become too tired of harbouring those they identified as destitutes in the state that they decided to evacuate all the perceived destitutes at intervals, apparently for them to locate their respective families in any part of the South-East geo-political zone.
The initial deportation, which had larger number, sparked off fear among the residents of the commercial city of Onitsha who were afraid that the people may not be destitutes after all but members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, given the present security situation in the country then and still now.
The development equally sent the security apparatus in Onitsha into frenzy as they mobilized their men to take position at the strategic locations in Bridge-head and Upper Iweka areas.
The Commander of the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha, Col. Taritimiye Gagariga told newsmen on phone then that they were observing the situation, but assured that there was no cause for alarm.
The police Area Commander for Onitsha, Mr. Benjamin Wordu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, also told newsmen then in a telephone chat that it was not yet certain whether the people were prison inmates, lunatics or destitutes, adding that he had directed the police authorities at Fegge Police Division to look into the matter properly and find out who actually the evacuees were.
The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at Fegge, CSP Rowland Omatoje, who had confirmed the incident, said that the people are destitutes from Lagos State, who have been evacuated to their various states.
He said they were being handed over to the Onitsha South Local Government Authorities at Fegge, which in turn will help them locate their families.
In his reaction, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, ordered the security agencies in the state to impound the buses and arrest the people to determine where they were coming from and where they were going.
Obi, suspecting that the evacuees could be insurgents, assured the people of Anambra State of his personal commitment to the security of lives and property in the state, adding that they should be alert and vigilant at all times.
The Governor thanked public spirited Anambrarians for bringing the information to him as soon as the buses stopped at Upper Iweka to off load their human cargo, calling for increased vigilance in all the communities in the State, as well as charging them to always report unusual movements and even suspicious faces to law enforcement agencies.
On the fate of the then deportees, the Governor said he had directed law enforcements agencies to impound the trailer as well as keep custody of those people pending investigations on who they are ,where they are going and whence.
The Governor took the opportunity to reiterate his personal commitment to security in Anambra State, insisting that he would remain awake in order to sustain the gains recorded in recent times against crime and criminality in the State.
With such alertness from Obi, residents of Onitsha business community and indeed the entire Anambra were urged to put the issue of the first deportation behind them to forge ahead.
Meanwhile, reactions have continued to trail the development. Among those who have so far reacted to it was the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Onitsha branch.
In a communique issued at the end of their general meeting and statement signed by the Chairman and Secretary of the Association, Barrister D. C. Maduechesi and Steve Onyechi Ononye, NBA insisted that the Lagos state government should recall these Nigerians to their various homes in Lagos and pay adequate compensation for the breach of their fundamental rights.
NBA also threatened to take legal action against Lagos state government if it carries out such an exercise in future, adding that the federal government should call the Lagos state officials to order.
The association also pleaded with Anambra State government to come to the assistance of these innocent Nigerians by providing means of transportation to them to enable them go back to their various states of origin.
Also, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), South East Zone condemned in its totality the inhuman manner with which some Nigerians were being deported and dumped in Onitsha, on regular intervals.
In their statement signed by its Zonal Chairman, Dede Uzor A. Uzor, CD called for an unreserved apology from the Lagos State Government to the people of Anambra state, especially the residents of Onitsha who are always treated with this eye-sore.
CD also urged President Goodluck Jonathan to call Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State to order since this is the second time of taking this sort of unconstitutional and inhuman deportation against Nigerians from the South-East extraction.
The statement warned that if such constitutional breach is committed again, CD would not hesitate to take legal action against Lagos State Government on behalf of all the deportees.
Meanwhile, the remaining five deportees are still hanging around in Onitsha waiting for their fate. The Chairman of Onitsha South Local Government Transition Committee, Barrister Ugochukwu Ezeani said Governor Obi and himself had to take it upon themselves to cater for all the 67 deportees, before they started locating their various home and leaving in droves.
Ezeani noted that having fed, clothed and transported most of them home, after medical care, the local government would continue to take care of the remaining five until they find their way.
Mrs. Nwora also told newsmen that she had spent at least N100,000 of her personal money in feeding the deportees, apart from the amount spent by the local government authority, under the approval of the council boss.
In his reaction, the Ogirishi Igbo, Ezeonwuka told newsmen in a telephone chat that the manner with which Fashola treated these destitutes was not normal because if they had lived in Lagos since they were born and had contributed their quota towards the development of Lagos state, government does not need to kick them out now that they are getting weak.
Ezeonwuka noted that rather than kick them out, government should take it as its responsibility to rehabilitate them by sending them to a rehabilitation center where they would be adequately taken care of, adding that the role of Ndigbo, as major industrialists in Nigeria deserved to earn them that respect.
The BOT Chairman for Importers Association, Bravo Obi, in his own statement on phone, said that whatever is the case, government should have considered the fact that the deportees are humans who do not deserve to be treated in such an inhuman manner, adding that both governments should have discussed the matter and reached an understanding first before the deportation exercise.
Barrister Muojeke, quoted Fashola as having expressed disappointment that Governor Peter Obi did not call him in such an important matter before taking it to Jonathan, but he (Fashola) usually calls Obi even in a little thing.
According to Muojeke, “let us forget about whipping up sentiments and face the reality on ground because these are humans and we are one, whether they are from the East, West or South, adding, the deportees should not be used to play politics”.
Barrister Ajugwe, in a written statement, declared: “The deportation of ethnic Igbo people from Lagos State across the River Niger to Onitsha marks a new phase of ethnic cleansing of Igbos by the Yoruba tormentors and haters”.
Ajugwe further added: “Education, civiliation. or even religion and the technology have done little or nothing to moderate the evil hatred of Ndigbo.
This episode of deportation of fellow Nigerians , some of whom were born and lived in Lagos State for ever 40 years to their ethnic zones, exposes the tribal underbelly of the Nigerian society.
”Let’s call a spade by its true name. When the hero of sainthood Chinua Achebe wrote his Biafran story in “There Was A Country”, the mass media outfit was used to shout and shot it down even before they have read a word of the book”.
He said the solution is that the South East zone which has been neglected and marginalized with no federal presence over the years by the successive federal government leaders, including that of the incumbent President Jonathan, needs a marshal plan with such scheme attracting public and private sectors investments in infrastructure, industries and federal institutions, so as to enable the Igbos return home and have no more need to be in Lagos or in the Northern Nigeria for that matter.”
In their joint statement issued in Onitsha, entitled: “Internal Deportation Of Igbo-Lagosians: A Joint Call For Decentralization Of The Age-long Concentration Of Socio-economic Activities In Lagos”, the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), International Society for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) and Anambra State chapter of Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) warned against negative consequences this deportation exercise might generate in due course.
A public statement jointly signed by MASSOB’s Uchenna Madu, Intersociety’s Emeka Umeagbalasi and CLO’s Aloysius Attah, stated that following the controversies and unceasing condemnations trailing the internal deportation of Nigerian citizens of Igbo-Lagos extraction by the Government of Lagos State and its ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) , there is need for immediate decentralization of the age-long concentration of socio-economic activities in Lagos State and de-monopolization of same as “the economic capital of Nigeria.
Our joint call is made after critical assessment of circumstances on the ground including defenses put forward by the Government of Lagos State and its APC in which it among other things, blamed the Nigerian citizens of Igbo extraction for flocking, flooding and stressing Lagos State and its population.
The State and its APC party also submitted controversially that Igbo-Lagosians are responsible for 100% of violent and syndicate crimes committed in the State. It said that Igbo-Lagosians are involved in advance fee fraud (419), kidnapping, armed robbery, assassination, etc.
“It is in view of this that this joint hallowed and informed call is made. The conclusion drawn by the spokesmen of the Government of Lagos State and its APC also raises serious fear over the possibility of inclusion of violent criminals among the citizens dumped in Onitsha .
“However, our joint call is in no way extricating the Government of Lagos State and its APC from its malicious, atrocious and grossly unconstitutional act.
The hallmark of a modern government, as espoused by Thomas Hobbes, is not measured by a number of high rising buildings or tarred roads with flowering roadsides or number of exotic cars driven by its infinitesimal rich/privileged class.
Rather, it is measured by how the welfare of the downtrodden including citizens with disabilities . It is in no way measured by government inhumane social programs and actions such as internal deportation of citizens from one federating unit to another.
“A country without the downtrodden is not a country. This is because, it is the welfare of the downtrodden that originally brought government into existence.”
” Another name for government is Destitute Social Welfare,” says Emeka Umeagbalasi .
” Evicting hawkers, petty traders, beggars and the physically and mentally challenged from the streets and roads in order to beautify them is like deforestation that destroys the only source of oxygen meant for human survival. Their presence in well-secured public places is the real beauty of a country and the traditional monument of the origin of government.
“Social living condition is propelled not by man, but by nature. A less privileged citizen today can become a privileged citizen tomorrow and a privileged citizen today can be less privileged citizen tomorrow. The issue of being a destitute or less privileged also has individual and corporate connotations.
” In other words, there also exists corporate destitute and corporate privileged. For instance, China is a corporate destitute of yesterday and a corporate privileged country of today. Nigeria was a corporate privileged State in the 1970s, today, it is a corporate destitute.
“Punishing a citizen because he or she is a destitute is a crime against humanity and amounts to playing God. In the major streets of the USA, for instance, destitute including lepers, the mentally challenged and beggars
still abound. In all her airports, the physically challenged are treated as primus inter pares or first among equal.
They are placed in the category of vulnerable class, cared and catered for at all times. During sightseeing visits organized for international visitors in the USA, “destitute in the streets” including drug addicts, lepers, beggars and mentally challenged are shown and introduced as part of the great US society and foundation upon which the US Government exists.
Their resettlement and rehabilitation centers are also included as part of American great monuments for sightseeing visitors.
“The great civil rights struggles of 1960s in the USA were also propelled by people hitherto called “American Destitute Class”, from which the present US President emerged. The Catholic Destitute Rehabilitation Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the Destitute Food Center in Seattle, the Washington State and the Girls Incorporation in Huntsville, Alabama, to mention but a few, are all part of the US great monuments and epitome of her greatness.
“The white section of the South African society, which leads the African Continent in terms of socioeconomic governance transformation, was founded by the European destitute and prisoners. Sadly, the Lagos State version of destitute welfare, which has spread to River State, is the Onitsha Upper Iweka Flyover, which was randomly and militarily created at 3: am, at the hours of blue law”.
” In view of the foregoing, therefore, it is about time Lagos State’s age-long monopoly of Nigeria’s socioeconomic hegemony got broken and decentralized.
To this extent, it is our demand that the Southeast Governors Forum and other core stakeholders should hold talks with the Federal Government of Nigeria so as to get the foreign missions in the country particularly those of Europe, North American, India, China and other Southeast Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council to open their consulate offices in Enugu for visa procession and obtainment and related issues.
A situation whereby the South-east and the South-south Nigerian citizens have to travel to Lagos to obtain visas for international travels is not only condemned but also amounts to diplomatic enslavement.
Also traveling to overseas through Lagos is not only death-prone, but also harsh and wicked policy that must be reversed. The upgrading of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport is a welcome development, but it is not enough. Efforts must be made to equip it and make it to wear the outlook of a modern international airport so as to meet international aviation qualities to be able to attract not cabin coffins but internationally certified healthy aircrafts.
” Having an international airport is not enough if access routes to it are not provided and maintained at all times. To this extent, it is our joint call that the Onitsha-Enugu and the Enugu-Port Harcourt Dual Carriage
Ways, which are now death-traps, should be reconstructed as a matter of uttermost immediacy.
For immediate and effective utilization of the international airport, the five States of the Southeast should jointly fund the reconstruction of the two important roads and seek for refund from the Federal Government of Nigeria later.
There is also need to decongest and decentralize Lagos wharfs. In view of this, cargoieing container goods to Port Harcourt wharfs, which are more friendly and convenient for traders of the Southeast and the South-south zones, should be encouraged and intensified.
There should also be proper dredging of the River Nigeria and construction of medium size wharf in Onitsha as part of the decongestion and decentralization of the Lagos economic capital monopoly. For easy conveyance of goods and services to Onitsha, Nnewi and Enugu, a connecting bridge should be built between the Ogwuikpere- Ogbaru part of Anambra State and the Ndoni part of River State, which, when built, will shorten the distance between Port Harcourt, River State and Onitsha, Anambra State to about one and a half hours as against seven hours drive from Lagos to Onitsha, Anambra State.